A TRIBUTE TO A MISSING LINK OF FIREHAWK HISTORYJoe Valenti's 1991 Pontiac Formula
A TRIBUTE TO A MISSING LINK OF FIREHAWK HISTORY
Publication: GMEFI MAGAZINE
Author: RICK SEITZ
26 January, 2024
photos by: Scott Schwartz Photography
Replicating a 1-of-1 Car That Nobody Has Publicly Seen In Decades
It’s been over thirty years since the first Firehawks have hit the pavement, and their collectibilty is at an all-time high. Only twenty-five cars were produced during the third-gen run, and just very recently, Hawks Motorsports has announced a continuation series of the original Firehawk, with former members of SLP and even Jon Mattison of Pontiac Historical Services (PHS), signing off on them. More can be learned about those cars HERE.
Now, first and foremost, what you’re looking at here, is not an OG Firehawk, nor is it one of the continuation cars. It is, in fact, a one-off tribute car to “the one that got away,” so to speak. As many F-body enthusiasts know, of the original twenty-five cars, most of which were red, only one — O N E — was sprayed in the coveted Bright Blue Metallic (paint code 98U, some refer to it as Ultra Blue Metallic), which was Car Number 22.
Unfortunately, that car hasn’t been seen anywhere in person since the mid-90s or so, and is rumored to have been sold to a collector in Japan, or perhaps, in the Middle East. So when we saw, what we thought was it, at the 2023 Trans Am Nationals in Fairborn, Ohio, we almost fainted.
Turns out, it wasn’t an actual ‘Hawk, but it is a very well-built, beautifully-executed tribute car. Owned by Joseph Valenti out of Michigan, it definitely stood out at the show — which is high praise — if you’ve ever been to the TA Nats. Digging a little deeper, it started out in life as a ’91 Firebird Formula in the aforementioned Bright Blue hue. Originally a 305 TPI 5-speed car, the basics we already in place to build a killer tribute. Of course, when we say tribute, we’re being modest.
Speaking to the owner, he wanted to shed some light on the subject:
“The car was originally ordered and purchased new by a former Pontiac Motor Division employee in 1991. He ordered it through Noonan Pontiac in Sterling Hieghts, Michigan. In September of 2020, I found the car on consignment at a local independent car dealership, Classic Auto Show Place in Troy, Michigan. The car had 45,000 miles on it; 305 TPI 5-speed, hardtop car. According to PHS, it is one of 19 Bright Blue Metallic w/black interior 5-speed Formulas made in ’91. The car came with all documentation from the day it was order through GM; build sheet, dealer invoice, dealer ordering info, GM discount paperwork, window sticker etc.
At the time of purchase, I owned four hardtop ’91 Formulas, and I was already in talks with Bruce at Hawks Motorsports on having a Firehawk tribute car built with a red Formula. The blue car wasn’t even a thought. The more I thought about it, however, I remembered that most Firehawks are red, and I always loved the “missing’ blue ’92 Firehawk #22 car. According to the VIN, that car is a Dark Aqua car but I disagree, as I saw that car in person many times over the years in Michigan when it was still owned by SLP. I recall it being Bright Blue Metallic.
I had this car built to be a great driver, and I wanted it to look as authentic as possible, at a glance. I wanted to pay tribute to the original Firehawk, with no intentions passing it off as an original car. The 91-92 Firehawk is my all-time favorite car, and I knew with only 25 being built, my chances of owning a real one would be slim. Because of Bruce, I now have “my Firehawk,” that will outperform an original car, hands down.
The car will return to Hawks sooner than later for some more upgrades…. Stay tuned.” — Joe Valenti, car owner
Now, having said all of that, this car is no longer powered by a TPI anything, much less, a 305. There isn’t a 383 cubic-inch Competition Package copycat SBC engine under the hood, either. Nope. Joe had Bruce at Hawks modernize things by a couple of decades. Instead, we find an all-aluminum LS2 under the hood, complete with a Livernois Motorsports top-end package. Fitting, considering that they’re also based out of Michigan, like Joe, and the car itself.
Additional engine add-ons include a FAST 92mm ported intake manifold and throttle body, and a 4-inch diameter cold-air intake from Hawks. A Mighty Mouse Solutions LS1 F-body catch can, a WIX fuel filter, and a Melling oil pump inside a Holley Performance muscle car oil pan cover the internal lubrication. MSD Performance wires and NGK TR6 plugs handle the ignition side of things, with a Racetronix knock sensor retrofit harness thrown into the mix, as was a 160-degree thermostat. Aiding the thermostat in the cooling department, is a 4th-Gen LS1 Trans Am electric fan system.
Forcing fuel into the engine, is a Walbro 255 LPH fuel pump, a Trick Flow adjustable regulator, and a set of 42-lb/hr fuel squirters. The spent fumes from the 364-cubic inch mill is exorcised through a set of Hawks long-tube LS swap headers, Y-pipe, and a GMMG chambered exhaust. It frees up horsepower, sounds great, and adds to the overall attitude of the car.
However, very much like the Firehawks of yore, this tribute did get its 5-speed upgraded for a 6-speed manual, in Tremec T-56 form. Hawks upgraded it even further, with Level 2 internals, and one of their own Stage 1 Sinister clutches. An Energy Suspension transmission mount was also added to the mix . Rather amazingly, a stock 1LE 10-bolt is still holding on for dear life, that’s stuffed with a 3.42 final drive ratio. We have a feeling, however, that’ll be changing soon enough. At least we hope.
But taking a closer look at the finer details, we so see what appear to be a set of the OG Ronal R15s used on the early Firehawks, at first glance. But strangely, they look a little larger than 17s — that’s because they are. Fresh off of the shelf at Hawks, are the new 18×10-inch versions of everyone’s favorite third-gen Firebird wheel. They’re wrapped in Nitto 275/35/18 rubber at all four corners. Tucked behind them, is Hawks’ own 1LE Big Brake Kit.
Keeping the car planted in the corners, is a Hotchkis suspension package, which lowered the car a full inch. The KYB EXCEL-G front struts, and EXCEL-G GR2 rear shocks that’s connected to it, provide a comfortable ride, paired with the ability to self-adjust to various road conditions. On the inside,Recaro SRD seats look right at home in a Firehawk tribute car, and the black upholstery matches the rest of the cockpit, perfectly. The red stitching in the seats, is a nice added touch. A Hawks Sinister short throw shifter helps Joe row the gears in a smooth, precise fashion.
The outside, remains standard fair, ’91 Formula/Firehawk, with the exception of the aforementioned wheels and Firehawk graphics. The mis-matched Firehawk font on the doors, to the rear bumper is actually correct for an original Firehawk, Continuation Car, or a properly done tribute car. It confuses some people, but that’s just the way that it was done. Some cars, didn’t have the door graphics at all.
The overall formula (pun intended), while somewhat subtle to the untrained eye, really is a testament to the simplicity of the original; performance-focused, little to no frills, everything you need, none of what you don’t. It’s the perfect blend of form and function coming together in a great package. The unusual color, and its homage to the long-disappeared, high performance collector car icon is the cherry on top. Will we ever see this car again? We can practically guarantee it.
CAR: 1991 Formula Firehawk Tribute
OWNER: Joe Valenti
ENGINE BLOCK: LS2
DISPLACEMENT: 364 cubic-inches
CRANKSHAFT: Stock, LS2
PISTONS: Stock, LS2
CAMSHAFT: Livernois Motorsports; custom grind
ROCKER ARMS: Stock,LS2
CONNECTING RODS: Stock, LS2
CYLINDER HEADS: Livernois Motorsports LS2
COMPRESSION RATIO: Stock
IGNITION: MSD wires, NGK TR6 plugs
INDUCTION: FAST intake, custom Hawk 4-inch intake tube
OILING: Holley pan, LS3 dipstick/tube
EXHAUST: Hawks Motorsports long-tube headers, Y-pipe, GMMG catback
FUEL DELIVERY: 255LPH fuel pump, adjustable fuel pressure regulator, WIX fuel filter
TRANSMISSION: T56, Level 2
CLUTCH: Hawks Sinister; Stage 1 w/billet flywheel
DRIVESHAFT: Aluminum, OE ’99-02 Trans Am
REAREND: Stock; 1LE 3.42 gears
SUSPENSION: Hotchkis, KYB EXCEL-G/G2 shocks and struts
BRAKES: Hawks 1LE-style Big Brake Kit
WHEELS: Hawks Motorsports 18-inch Ronal R15 (front and rear)
TIRES: Nitto 275/35/18
HP/TQ.: 440hp/420-lb ft
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.
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